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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Buyer's Guide 2009: Lenses

What to know about the most important part of your camera system

Labels: LensesBuyers Guide

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A lens for every subject
In 35mm full-frame terms, a lens shorter than 20mm is classified as an ultra-wide. Aspherical and rectilinear lenses are important here because without them it’s easy for the corners of the frame to become dark and for parallel lines to curve dramatically—unless that distortion is desirable, like with a fish-eye ultrawide.

The Sony SAL-16F28 is a fish-eye lens with a 180-degree angle of view. Focusing as close as eight inches, the lens is perfect for dramatic distortions created by exaggerated perspective. It includes four built-in filters selected by a rotating dial on the lens for adjustments to color and contrast. On a Sony DSLR-A100 camera, it provides a 110-degree angle of view with a 24mm focal length in 35mm equivalent terms. Estimated Street Price: $799.

The new Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX is an ultrawide zoom with a constant maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8. Focal lengths range from 11mm to 16mm, making this zoom very flexible for photographers who know they want wide-angle options. The smaller zoom range makes for more consistent quality and a constant maximum aperture. Easy switching between auto and manual focus makes it an ideal lens for fast-paced photography. Estimated Street Price: $599.

Nikon's PC-E Nikkor 24mm ƒ/3.5D ED does something not many lenses can: it moves. Just as view cameras gained popular for their ability to tilt and shift, these specialized lenses for D-SLRs approximate the same movements. Perspective control (or tilt/shift) lenses allow architectural photographers to correct distortions and creative photographers to adjust the plane of focus to move a viewer's eye into the frame. Nikon also makes 45mm and 85mm PC-E lenses, but the 24mm is an ideal wide-angle with movements—particularly for architectural, landscape and experimental shooters. Estimated Street Price: $1,929 (24mm); $1,799 (45mm); $1,739 (85mm).

Tilt/shift lenses are great for wide-angle control, but they can be impractical for everyday shooting. For versatility in a wide angle, consider a zoom like the Olympus ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm ƒ/4-5.6. Designed for the Four Thirds sensors of the Olympus E-System, the lens is only three inches long and weighs half a pound, making it perfect for photographers who like to travel light but still want the flexibility of a zoom. Better still, this consumer lens is light on the pocketbook, too. Estimated Street Price: $599.

Normal lenses-in the middle ground between wide and telephoto-are very versatile. The Pentax DA 17-70mm ƒ/4 IF SDM is designed for use with Pentax D-SLRs, and it covers the most popular focal lengths from wide to telephoto, neither in the extreme. This standard zoom has a roughly 4x range, equating to 26-107mm in 35mm film terms. Plus, it can focus up close—less than a foot across the entire zoom range. List Price: $599.

EF 200mm ƒ/2L IS USM

EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM
In terms of telephoto primes, the Canon EF 200mm ƒ/2L IS USM is a professional's lens dream. A superfast ƒ/2 maximum aperture coupled with image stabilization makes it possible for the most demanding photographers to get sharp handheld shots in the trickiest low-light conditions; 200mm is a great length for portraits too. For ultra long-range shooting, look to the EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM super-telephoto with Canon's Image Stabilizer (IS). Both lenses incorporate optical IS to steady the large lenses—even for fast-moving subjects like sporting events—and they're wrapped in a rugged weather-resistant design. Such luxury, however, isn't cheap. List Price: $5,999 (200mm); $11,999 (800mm).

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